japonisme: 10/14/07 - 10/21/07

18 October 2007

gakiku for haiku

inspired & informed by the luminous princess haiku, i bring note of a chrysanthemum exhibition happening for the next month at the new york botanical garden. (watch the video)

The chrysanthemum, the flower loved by Tao Yuan-ming (365-427), a distinguished Chinese poet of the East-Chin dynasty, was brought to

Japan around the beginning of the Heian Period (794-1192). It took root in Japan and was called by many different names such as "Katami-gusa (memory flower)" and "Chigiri-gusa (promise flower)."

In the Edo Period (1603-1868), there were several hundred varieties of chrysanthe- mum in Japan. Gakiku is a picture book dating from 1519 and published in this form in 1691, which introduces one hundred kinds of chrysanthemums with beautiful illustrations. The flower's name and a Chinese-style poem is also written for each of the flowers. The preface was written in 1519 by Eikin (1447-1537), a priest of the Rin'zai Zen Sect in Japan, which says that the pictures were the work of Junpo (1504-1549), the second son of a feudal lord of that time. We can also find the postface and the imprint at the end of this book, from which we learn that the book was published in 1691, and that the Chinese-style poems and the postface were added in that year.
Gakiku is the first picture book of chry- santhe- mums produced in Japan, possibly modeled on the Kikufu Hyakueizu, a translation of a Chinese book of the same kind published in 1686. The writing and lines are wood-block printed in black, and the illustrations are hand-painted in yellow, white, red, purple etc. according to the colors of the flowers. The book was once owned by Yokoyama Shigeru (1896-1980), a scholar of Japanese literature.

Following the publication of Gakiku, books on chrysanthemum cultivation were published one after another. There was a chrysanthemum boom and chrysanthemum shows were held in Kyoto every year. In the middle of the 18th century, the Kikukyo, a learned work on chrysanthemums, was written by Matsudaira Yorihiro (1702-1763), a feudal lord of Mutsu-Moriyama (now part of Fukushima prefecture, located to the north of Tokyo). In the first half of the 19th century, chrysanthemum craftwork became popular in the Komagome and Sugamo area of Edo (now part of Tokyo), and later on, at the end of the Edo Period, chrysanthemum dolls in Dango-zaka (now Bunkyo ward of Tokyo) became an attraction in autumn.

Throughout the Edo Period, the chrysanthemum attracted people of all classes.

(Digital images of all the pages of Gakiku are available here.
Please note that this is a different link from the one in the newsletter.)

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17 October 2007

brimful of starlight


I PASSED along the water's edge below the humid trees,
My spirit rocked in evening light,
the rushes round my knees,

My spirit rocked in sleep and sighs;
and saw the moorfowl pace
All dripping on a grassy slope,
and saw them cease to chase
Each other round in circles,
and heard the eldest speak:
Who holds the world between His bill
and made us strong or weak
Is an undying moorfowl,
and He lives beyond the sky.
The rains are from His dripping wing,
the moonbeams from His eye.

I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:
Who made the world and ruleth it,
He hangeth on a stalk,

For I am in His image made,
and all this tinkling tide

Is but a sliding drop of rain
between His petals wide.

A little way within the gloom
a roebuck raised his eyes
Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the Skies,
He is a gentle roebuck;
for how else, I pray, could He
Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?

I passed a little further on
and heard a peacock say:

Who made the grass and made the worms and made my feathers gay,
He is a monstrous peacock, and He waveth all the night
His languid tail above us, lit with myriad spots of light.

William Butler Yeats

(Yeats never fully embraced his Protestant past nor joined the majority of Ireland’s Roman Catholics but he devoted much of his life to study in myriad other subjects including theosophy, mysticism, spiritualism, and the Kabbalah.)

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16 October 2007

diving without analogy

O'er the wide, wide sea, Towards its many dis- tant isles, Rowing I set forth. This, to all the world pro- claim, O ye boats of fisher-folk!
The place is the south end of the Izu Pen- insula, southwest of the Tokyo area.

The women are Ama--diving girls who are trained to dive into shallow water and reef areas and retrieve shellfish and other marine life used in gour- met seafood meals. It was a hard and dangerous occupation, and the girls used no special

equipment. Most of them worked for a labor boss, who took a cut of their wages. The occupation gradually van- ished after the war--these were among the last of the tribe.

the prints clearly make it seem more romantic. called both divers of abalone and pearls, the women are pictured as long-haired and red-skirted, often joyous in their explo- rations, with their families around them. they are, further, of great interest to royal parties and boats of leering fishermen as well.

utamaro featured them the most often -- not really surprisingly

since he spent the rest of his time exploring the women of the pleasure district, both on paper and personally. it was the death of him, in a roundabout way.

Hokusai tells us that the longing for the spiritual security of home is stronger than any sensual temptation - including that of beautiful girls. The three girls on the top of the rock are a tribute to Kitagawa Utamaro's famous woodblock from 1798 with "the same three girls". Hokusai made his woodblock about 50 years later. 2

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15 October 2007

the original web


Pattiann Rogers

Those are my bones rifted

and curled, knees to chin,

among the rocks on the beach,

my hands splayed beneath my skull

in the mud. Those are my rib

bones resting like white sticks

wracked on the bank, laid down,

delivered, rubbed clean

by river and snow.

Ethereal as seedless weeds

in dim sun and frost, I see

my own bones translucent as locust

husks, light as spider bones,

as filled with light as lantern

bones when the candle flames.

And I see my bones, facile,

willing, rolling and clacking,

reveling like broken shells

among themselves in a tumbling surf.

I recognize them, no other's,

raggedly patterned and wrought,

peeled as a skeleton of sycamore

against gray skies, stiff as a fallen

spruce. I watch them floating

at night, identical lake slivers

flush against the same star bones

drifting in scattered pieces above.

Everything I assemble, all

the constructions I have rendered

are the metal and dust of my locked

and storied bones. My bald cranium

shines blind as the moon.

From Eating Bread and Honey, published by Milkweed Editions, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Pattiann Rogers. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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14 October 2007

the color of light

well, it might seem strange to say it, but it is none the less true, that be- fore the arrival among us of the japanese picture books, there was no one in france who dared to seat himself on the banks of a river and to put side by side on his canvas a roof frankly red, a white-washed wall, a green poplar, a yellow road, and blue water. t duret, 1886

what seems to have hastened the success of these new- comers, monet, pissarro, and sisley, is that their pictures are painted in a singularly joyful range of color. a blond light inundates them, and everything in them is gaiety, sparkle, springtime fete, evenings of gold or apple trees in flower -- again an inspiration from japan. galerie durand-ruel 1873

Japanese color tends not to be harmonic or atmospheric: it is distinct, a sequence of clear notes struck on the retina. To a greater degree than in Western art, each color comes equipped with its own symbolic associations, which remain more or less constant through its use in architecture, print, neon, fabric design, packaging, food or painting. Red, for instance, pertains to magic and sorcery, vitality, fire and the conquest of evil spirits.

Japanese color is grounded in nature: every indigo or cobalt dye runs, as it were, back to the sea.

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